As promised in my last rant on social responsibility, this week all my posts shall be on little effective things that can be done to make changes for the environment. The first, it still being Monday, is on food consumption and the McCartneys’ environmental baby – Meat Free Monday.
The premise of Meat Free Mondays is a simple one. By cutting our consumption of meat, even if it is for just one day of the week, we can make a positive difference to the environment. This is due to two major factors: the first being the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by livestock bred for our consumption, the second being the deforestation caused by high demand for livestock feed.
Cattle in particularly are notoriously responsible for the first problem. Information from the Vegetarian Society claims that a cow belches as much as 500 ltrs of methane per day and that the gas methane has 25 times the global warming impact that carbon dioxide has. Livestock also produce vast quantities of nitrous oxide (which has 300 times the global warming impact of CO2) as well as CO2 itself. If we farmed animals on a more sensible level, these facts may not be so troubling, but the truth is that we do not. In the west we consume a ludicrous (and unhealthy) amount of meat. Especially in the States, miles and miles of ‘feedlots’ stretch across the horizon, stuffed with cows, whist pigs and chickens are also intensively farmed. In a study, quoted by the Vegetarian Society, livestock farming is estimated to be responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire world’s transport systems.
The second environmental backlash of our massive meat industries, deforestation to make room to grow animal feed, is another with untold effects on the environment as well as ecosystems, biodiversity, not to mention loss of land for indigenous Peoples and impacts on world famine. In 2010, Friends of the Earth UK launched their ‘Fix the Food Chain’ campaign, trying to change the government policy of buying in soy cattle feed from areas in Brazil that had previously been rainforest and to, instead, increase soy production in the UK. Although the campaign was not initially successful, it has now begun to make headway, yet due to the west’s greedy appetite for meat, soy is still produced in areas that used to be rainforest, and still will be until huge changes to the consumer market take place. This is because of the sheer amount of animal feed necessary to produce the small bits of meat that actually reach our plates. Figures (again from the Vegetarian Society) suggest that animals we raise for food eat 1/2 of the wheat produced here in the UK, 60% of our barley, and consume 90% of the world’s soya. It takes 10kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef. More ridiculous, cows are not built to eat grain, and should actually be eating grass. Their systems struggle to digest grain, and this causes illnesses like E. Coli to build up in their digestive system. When meat contaminated with E. Coli is fed to humans, it can be fatal*. So why do we do it? Simply to try to rush the production of meat to meet the greedy demands of the west. Fed on grain, cattle rapidly puts on weight and is ready for slaughter faster than if it had been fed on grass. Meanwhile, as land is cleared for soy production, the termination of trees means a reduction of the lungs of our planet. Once dead, trees are no longer sucking in CO2, instead they are releasing it, especially if the area of land they once stood in is levelled by fire – a popular method of quick deforestation in the amazon.
Eating less meat is, therefore, a big thumbs up for the environment, whereas, if our consumer drive for meat remains the same, trees will continue to be felled while our livestock produce unthinkable levels of damaging greenhouse gasses. The meat market seems to be a double-edged sword where global warming is concerned. But, the achievable aspect of Meat Free Mondays is that it doesn’t expect everyone to make the sacrifice of becoming a vegetarian (although if you feel motivated to, that’s fantastic!) but instead only asks that you refrain from eating meat on Mondays. If that still seems hard work, there is plenty of help available on the internet in the form of encouragement and recipes from the likes of the Meat Free Mondays group, as well as The Vegetarian Society and The Vegan Society – and the bonus is that, as I have already alluded to, eating too much meat is not very good for us. By joining the Meat Free Monday campaign you are doing good to yourself as well as the environment.
If that thought still needs driving home, maybe this last little fearful anecdote will assist. Taken from the ethical cook book ‘Less Meat More Veg’, Rachel De Thample reveals the human cost of our meat greed.
‘At the height of the same 1984 famine which inspired the historic Band Aid concert, Ethiopia was growing food to feed livestock in Britain and other European nations’
Frighteningly, these problems continue today. The Vegan Society states that while one billion people on earth are malnourished, studies by the UN show that over three billion people could be fed on grain fed to animals. Our appetite for meat is the cause of humanitarian atrocities, as well as environmental. Meanwhile, the UK remains dependent on food from other countries due to our passion for meat. DEFRA claims that, if we ended livestock farming in the UK, we could sustain the UK’s appetites independently. If this idea doesn’t seem important, consider the looming threats climate change has to offer this planet. While the UN begins to plan for wars of attrition and implementing ‘climate change peacekeeping‘, maybe moving to a sustainable Britain isn’t such an extreme idea after all… Food for thought…
*This, and other shocking issues around food production are covered in the documentary ‘Food Inc’ which is worth tracking down and watching. Blog sure to be written on it in the fullness of time!